You have to do a lot to stand out in the Atlanta rap universe. André 3000 was wearing platinum wigs and football shoulder pads 15 years ago. This is the city of Gucci Mane, of Fabo, of Future — street-rap goons who became psychedelic genre-pushing visionaries without losing their core bad-motherfucker appeal. These days, Young Thug is rocking red nail-polish and frilly pirate shirts in videos, and ILoveMakonnen is explicitly acknowledging DIY bedroom-indie as an influence, and those two guys are huge. In today’s Atlanta, straight-faced tough guys like Jeezy and T.I. feel like throwback anomalies. Even in that context, though, Rome Fortune really, really wants you to know that he’s different. You don’t grow a bigass beard and dye it blue if you’re not trying to get noticed. And that peacocking strangeness is also on display in his artistic choices; it’s why he’s probably the only artist who’s made songs with both Gucci Mane and Four Tet. Over the past few years, Rome Fortune has released a few mixtapes (Beautiful Pimp, Beautiful Pimp 2, the Dun Deal collaborative EP Drive, Lies & Thighs) that trended insular, making little impression at first but then lingering around in your brain a few weeks after you first heard them. (That was my experience, anyway, and it’s the main reason I’ve never given him Mixtape Of The Week before. By the time the tapes had really captured my imagination, they were too old to write about.) Small VVorld is the moment where Rome Fortune is finally demanding attention, doing everything he can do to make sure the world notices. It’s working.
Rome is a fine rapper, versatile and conversational. But the thing that drew me to his music in the first place was the way he puts music together. It’s not just a matter of beat selection. In this SPIN interview, he claims that he prefers to sit down with producers and build songs up from nothing: “I’ll be like, ‘Hey man, I want something that sounds like a laser gun shooting a dolphin underwater.'” That’s probably why the first Beautiful Pimp tape had rising Atlanta production stars like Childish Major and Dun Deal doing some of their most dazed, aqueous work. It’s definitely why the second Beautiful Pimp tape maintained its glassy, mellow mood throughout. Rome’s father, a jazz musician, played vibraphone on about half the songs on that tape, and it just sounded lovely. On Small VVorld, Rome does something similar, but instead of using underground rap-music signifiers to build his tracks, he’s working with dance producers.
Blood Diamonds and Bassnectar and SuicideYear all contributed tracks to Small VVorld, and in a less assured rapper’s hands, those collaborations could’ve been disasters. But with this guy, the end results don’t sound like EDM festival-bait. Instead, these guys are doing some of their most diffuse, evocative work, never mashing the tempo but instead using their synth-beeps and bass-swells doing more contemplative things with them. The tracks don’t thump statically; they drop out and warp and bend in their own time. And even though Rome talks a lot about sex — “5 second RULE” is built from a goofy pun about still eating an ass even after a girl has dropped it to the ground — most of this is interior music. Much of the tape is built from relationship-talk, or from talk about what’s going on inside a person’s head at any given moment. “I crave moments to myself / I hate moments to myself,” Rome raps on “Flashback,” and this is not the sort of thing you expect to hear on a track that motherfucking Bassnectar produced.
The internet finds some new way to reshape the rap underground every few months, and this is a conspicuously good time for a rapper like Rome Fortune to come up. It’s probably not a surprise that the only guest vocalists on Small VVorld, ILoveMakonnen and OG Maco, are responsible for two of the summer’s biggest viral hits (“Tuesday” and “You Guessed It,” respectively). Rome isn’t recruiting these guys opportunistically; he’s known them for a long time, and they’ve come up with him. These guys all have a similar DIY disrespect for rules. They’re all making counterintuitive moves and being rewarded for it. With Small VVorld, Rome probably hasn’t made any viral hits; his music is too splintered and uncatchy and off for even that. But he has made an immediate and physical piece of work, a tape that takes his unique set of skills and projects it into larger and larger spaces. He’s left the roadmap completely, and good things are coming of it.
Download Small VVorld here.